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Treasurer Sprague discusses low-interest financing option for farms

Mona Barrett adds pumpkins to the sale pile at Sweetapple Farm Wednesday, after morning rains cleared. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Too wet to plant in the spring and too dry to mature late summer, some local crops have taken a hit this year from Mother Nature.

“The crops affected by the weather for us were the later downpours right after we planted pumpkins,” said Daniel Worthington, 26, of Lowell. “Thankfully, a lot of the summer rains and hail dodged us and our melons, cabbage, peppers and squash. But when we planted the pumpkin seeds mid-June, we just got hit hard with the water.”

Mona Barrett, owner of Sweetapple Farm in Vincent, said the weather browned her family farm’s corn earlier than usual this year and may have affected the size of their pumpkins.

“But I can’t complain, the colors were still beautiful in our pumpkins, and the stalks still got tall for the corn maze,” she smiled. “After the end of October, we’ll set our cows out into the cornfield and where the pumpkins are, and they’ll eat up what’s left and fertilize the ground for next year’s crops.

The hope is this year–despite disaster declarations across the state for one in seven acres of farmland going unplanted due to wet weather–local farms can still produce a profit.

“I’ll be headed out to my participating farms over the next month and working on tax estimates and looking at our yields, but I think I’m hopeful this year things are going to be decent,” said Marty Clark, AgriBusiness coordinator at the Washington County Career Center.

Clark works in a mentorship and business planning role with local farmers to develop financial planning practices, record-keeping, and business enterprise analysis from the farm tables across the county.

“I’m not an accountant, but I get to work with farmers as their coach walking them through what programs are available and how to keep the records and books so they can really track how much it costs to raise a bushel or a herd, whatever agriculture they’re working with,” explained Clark.

Clark said Wednesday he can only think of a few farmers he’s worked with this year that may have been negatively impacted by the extremes in weather, though.

“Maybe one farmer I work with took advantage of the state’s Ag-Link program, I’m not sure,” he said.

Ag-Link is a low-interest financing option backed by the Ohio Treasurer’s Office and was one topic of Treasurer Robert Sprague’s visit to Marietta Wednesday.

“We get it was a tough year, a wet year, and we want to help our farmers,” said Sprague. “This program typically is open at the beginning of the year to help offset the upfront costs of getting crops in the ground, but we’ve reopened the funding period to try and help farmers recover.”

Ken Schilling, of Oak Grove, said programs like the lowered-interest loan coordination between local lenders and the state could be useful in offsetting a hard season like 2019.

“When we’ve had extremes in weather like this year’s spring and then then the dry August and September, you run the risk of late-planted crops not getting enough time to mature and then not getting enough water later on in their growth when they most need it,” he explained. “At the beginning of the year, many of us had a hard time bailing hay because it was so wet, now as we’re getting into the harvesting of corn and soybeans, those could have fewer nutrients too because of how dry the end of the summer was.”

Sprague noted while there aren’t currently any local lenders or banks in the 13 east and southeastern Ohio counties–his office will be working to encourage those institutions to join the program.

Currently, Meigs, Athens, Morgan, Perry, Muskingum, Guernsey, Noble, Washington, Harrison, Belmont, Monroe, Jefferson and Columbiana counties have no banks listed on the 2019 participating lenders’ list produced by the state treasurer’s office.

The closest lenders are located within Gallia, Vinton, Hocking, Fairfield, Licking, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Stark and Mahoning counties.

Another 12 counties in southern and southwestern Ohio also have no participating banks in the program, and 10 northern Ohio counties are also vacant of representation in the program as well.

“Perhaps it’s a program we just need to learn more about how to utilize,” noted Andrea Kackley, Ohio Farm Bureau’s organizational director for Washington, Morgan, Perry and Muskingum counties. “Then, we could talk and market it more as an option to our farmers and our banks.”

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